Building Bridges with Music from Main Street to Sesame Street: Judith Clurman

12 Judith Clurman art

Judith Clurman, Emmy and Grammy-Nominated Conductor

“Becoming a musician is a life-long process” says Emmy and Grammy-nominated conductor, vocal educator and choral specialist, Judith Clurman. Ms. Clurman has conducted symphonies, ballets and choral ensembles worldwide, She has premiered over fifty works by America’s most revered composers. She is the former Director of Choral Activities at The Julliard School and has been a guest teacher and conductor at Harvard University and Cambridge University in the UK. She created and for nine years served as Artistic Director of the Lincoln Center Tree Lighting, where she collaborated with leading artists of popular, jazz, and classical music. She also served as the Associate Music Director for Season 39 of Sesame Street.

Ms. Clurman is currently the Music Director and Conductor of Essential Voices USA (EVUSA) that promotes the love of music and the art of ensemble singing. The group mixes professional and auditioned volunteer singers. Under her direction, they have performed on National Public Radio, at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting ceremony, and as part of the New York Pops series at Carnegie Hall,   Clurman conducted select students in a performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  EVUSA’s most recent recording, Celebrating The American Spirit, features guest Broadway starts Kelli O’Hara and Ron Raines.  This CD is a perfect example of Clurman’s eclectic approach to music. Ms. Clurman is known for building bridges and putting together unique collaborations in music.

Clurman is also tuned in to recent changes in the music industry. She says, “People learn a lot from what they can find online, so we need to be imaginative and listen to our audiences. Musicians – all performers – are faced with a whole new set of challenges in what Clurman refers to as a ‘YouTube world.’  If we the want the public to come hear and experience live music in concert halls we must teach them how to distinguish levels of quality.  Remember that an mp3 is not the same as a finely engineered recording and live music is not perfect and edited!”

Ms. Clurman points out, “Arts education in this country is increasingly at risk. In the past, learning music in schools taught socialization and community building as well as introducing students to how to sing in choruses and/or play in bands and orchestras. Young people were not scared to have fun together and experience all different types of music. Learning music also taught children discipline and fine study habits. They even learned about healthy competition with their fellow students. “

“To pursue a career in music requires discipline, as I found when I was a young child and then as a student at The Julliard School. You cannot become an artist over night. You must realize that you are going to have ups and downs and face many challenges. You need to learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. You need to learn how to use your imagination. You must be willing to take chances, take risks, and not copy someone else’s performance that you hear on a recording. You must learn how to be you.”

“In the ideal world, a young artist would find a mentor who would support them emotionally and teach them. They must learn that success will take time. They must learn that they cannot be afraid of failure.  They must learn that success is about being true to yourself. They must learn that they need to find their own special passions!”

Judith Clurman’s devotion to supporting American music, to uniting and nurturing seasoned and young professionals in her ensembles, to championing young composers, and to creating imaginative programming have made her an inspirational and greatly admired figure in the international music community. Her current and former students can be found in major opera companies, musical theater productions, and conducting positions worldwide.

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Championing Chinese Shadow Puppetry – Annie Rollins

Annie Rollins, Puppeteer and recent Fulbright Fellow in Chinese Shadow Puppetry

How did you get involved with Chinese Shadow Puppetry?

Chinese shadow puppetry is the sum of all my independent interests and, of course, so much more.  As a part-Asian puppet lover with a penchant for the historical, Chinese shadow puppetry has sustained my interest in all of those things and continues to inform my personal and professional life.

How does shadow puppetry differ from other performance arts in its approach?

It is similar to other folk art performance forms in that its main purpose is to transmit oral history to a largely illiterate class and to educate and community build through entertainment and a collective experience. It differs from other traditions insofar as its incredible artistry has really pushed boundaries both with the figures themselves and performance techniques.

What about this art form is important to the heritage of China and to yourself?

Chinese shadow puppetry is an amalgamation of Chinese culture in both content and aesthetics as seen from the masses. While most elite and upper class art forms are well documented and preserved, Chinese shadow puppetry is lesser known and understood but more informative as to the majority’s ideology and beliefs at any given time. In a broader context, this is Chinese shadow puppetry’s most important heritage.

I consider it a high art form in its own right, with regional differences in nearly every province that reflect a rich inheritance of idiosyncratic tradition and craft.  My particular focus is practice-led research in traditional shadow puppet making methods in the three main regional styles and that has remained largely uncovered in research both in China and internationally.  Because the methods and aesthetic significance was largely overlooked until recently, many of the remaining masters have passed already with no apprentices in place and many others threaten the same scenario.

How does this influence your artwork?

My research and creative work have a symbiotic relationship – both inform the other and not necessarily in any particular order. Through research I find questions that can only be explored through creation and vice versa. Currently, my work is almost wholly focused on both Chinese shadow puppetry and how that learning is processed through me as an artist with a very different background than the traditional learner. With permission from my masters, I’m creating my own pathway to modernizing the form that fits within my understanding of how best to honor the tradition.

How is shadow puppetry being preserved in China?

Other than commercial endeavors, little has been done to preserve the form in China. With the official induction into UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage project in 2011, there is much more attention and support currently being focused on traditional Chinese shadow puppetry, but the long-term results remain to be seen. Little, if any, funding is being given to two designated members of a nominated troupe (equal to a peasants’ monthly wages) and no funding or support for students or apprentices. And, while this greatly eases the stress for shadow puppet artists in the aging stages of their lives, it does little to answer the more imperative questions about lack of students to carry the tradition through to the next generation.

Some people have criticized China for their lack of effort to preserve this and many other dying traditions as their country races towards a progressive modern future, but I find that they are doing what all countries have done at one point or another – prioritizing.  Folk art forms are in this position worldwide.

Are there any schools or programs that specialize in Chinese Shadow Puppetry?

Sadly, there are no formal institutions that teach Chinese shadow puppetry, save a workshop here or there.  The masters who are still working are very open to students – even foreign ones – who show an interest. Because it is a folk art form it is unlikely that Chinese shadow play education would become formalized anytime soon.The hope is that the form will garner more support to continue teaching as they always have – through hands and hearts.

If anyone has interest and will be traveling to China shortly, feel free to contact me for connections. Additional puppetry information is at: http://annierollins.wordpress.com/links.

Annie Rollins is a puppeteer and recent Fulbright Fellow in Chinese Shadow Puppetry. She has a MFA in theater design from the University of Minnesota and has been studying traditional Chinese Shadow Puppetry in different regions of China for the past year. Annie considers herself an artist first, creating experimental puppet shows, design and teaching workshops when she isn’t studying puppetry in China. Recently, she was invited to speak at the Chinese Shadow Puppetry Symposium at the Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut.